Review Date: 2 .13.06
Would you rather be right, or noble?
In movies, names often provide a clue to the character of the characters. In The Matador, Pierce Brosnan’s latest vehicle, the names of the characters are important, but in an odd way.
Brosnan plays the part of Julian Noble, a hit man. And Greg Kinnear plays the part of Danny Wright, a Denver businessman down on his luck.
Noble and Wright, each in Mexico City to ‘close a deal’, meet by chance in an anonymous hotel bar. They tip a few drinks and before long Julian Noble has unburdened himself of workplace secrets. In the process, he offends the equally open, but quintessentially quotidian Mr. Wright, who bolts in well taken umbrage.
A few scenes later, Julian Noble is knocking on Danny Wright’s hotel door with reconciliation in mind. In the movies, as in life, opposites do seem to attract. Julian talks Danny into attending the Sunday bullfights. And at this point, it might be useful to refer to the title of the film – The Matador. A matador is, essentially, a professional killer. The
difference between a hit man and a matador is that, in theory, the matador’s victim has a fighting chance.
Pierce Brosnan is well known as an animal rights advocate and I suspect he found himself, if you will pardon the obvious phrase, on the horns of an ethical dilemma when it came to the film’s bull fighting scenes. Brosnan not only has the leading role, but he’s the producer of The Matador, a situation that must have conflicted him even more.
But I know, from reading the production notes, that Brosnan was taken with Richard Shepard’s script immediately. And it’s easy to see why. Not only is the script smart and funny (at one point Julian Noble describes himself as ‘a facilitator of fatalities’) but it provides Brosnan with the opportunity to play an anti-James Bond character. Julian Noble is about as far from James Bond as it’s possible for two practitioners of the same profession to be.
Though he’s intelligent and witty, Julian Noble is a sleaze ball. It would be generous to say that he is sartorially challenged. He sports a crew cut and a mustache, and is oblivious of social graces. A decent regard for the opinions of mankind is necessarily absent in the life of a hit man, and we see that lack of ethos writ large in Noble’s character, or lack thereof.
But if Julian Noble isn’t really very noble, he fascinates the naïve Danny Wright, and becomes an iconic object to him. And Danny Wright, for different reasons, becomes equally important to Julian Noble.
Ultimately, The Matador is a film about friendship, and, rather than an objective description of character, Julian and Danny’s surnames come more to describe how each regards the other.
Writer/director Richard Shepard envisioned The Matador as an independent film that he would complete for 250 grand. It was, he believed, too edgy for Hollywood. But that was before Pierce Brosnan and his production company read the script. Brosnan had the great good sense to elevate Shepard’s ambitions. The result is one of the best films to come down the pike in quite a while.
Catch this one soon, if you want to watch it on the big screen.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.